Monday, June 28, 2010


Family duty beckons, so I might have to disappear for a few days. Anyway a few ideas of what I've been pondering:
  • Dungeon maps in regards to describing them to players. ze Bulette and I had a conversation about this and he mentioned he might blog about it, so I don't want to steal his thunder, but I've been thinking about it to improve my own DMing. Do it Bulette! haha, pressure.
  • Back into the fray; I made another character for 4e and played on Friday. I made a vanilla human fighter. I have sooo many more options for what my character can do in combat it should be a crime to let inexperienced players play wizards. I thought they were aiming for balance!? Anyway, being able to push, pull and maneuver in a tactical mini game is useful, also multiple daily powers that grant a bonus to hit for the duration of the battle! Would rather play something else, but this is what my friends are playing.
  • Also haven't given up on movement rates/encumbrance, I feel like a simple, but real-like solution is just at the tip of my brain.
  • Have an idea for Town Trade Templates as a way to build a campaign world but it would take some mental time and research to flesh it out.
  • Started working on The Infinite Village, where I was overlaying real UK village maps on top of one another to make a stencil that you'd roll a die and trace roads/buildings. The work was tedious though, so I left it to trawl for pictures.
  • Character /Record sheets-- if the digest sized rules is one task of the DIY jedi, the character sheet is the other. I want to use iconic illustrations of gear to simplify reading/recording, especially for newbies, but that requires finding appropriate images. I've found some.
Okay, peace. Don't get too hot in this weather. I'll try to have something interesting to share when I come back.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Movement Rates II

Okay, here's a chart with my movement rate calculations. Keep in mind these are rough, ballpark figures. I rounded in spots, especially the last column which is probably what I'll be working with. The last three columns are assuming a table top scale of 1 inch equal to 10 real world feet.

I threw the animals in at the bottom for comparison.

If you put a gun to my head and asked me how I'd use this as a DM right now, I'd probably say, people can move 3" in combat normally or 2' for a one round burst, but only once per encounter.

What about encumbrance? Yeah, I had an idea in the comments. I think I'll write about that tomorrow. One word clue is: Húsafell stone.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

To Penmar and the Caverns of Luray

A title like that deserves either a Traveller module or a Burroughsesque novel. Won't someone please fulfill that destiny. :)

Gem Cards

I posted some treasure cards a while back. I still like the idea, especially as it seems like something perfect for sharing-- takes some work to make but then they're useful forever. So, today I ran across a public domain book with color plates of gems and greedily filled my purse. I made a page with labels and one without. Maybe your thieves know the names/values of gems-- give them the first, everyone else has to learn from experience. Pdf here.

Now, give your players some gems!

Movement Rates

I've mentioned on the S&W forums that movement rates have always baffled me and I've sat down today to try to work them out from the ground up. I think one reason they confuse me so much is that there are so many variables involved: encumbrance, indoor vs. outdoor, combat vs. exploring, even differences in speed due to species.

Let's try to constrain the variables as much as possible we'll talk about an unencumbered human walking outside of combat. (the whole indoors/outdoors seems an artifact of wargaming to me and I'm going to ignore it, last I checked I walk the same pace indoors and out).

Average human walking speed is a little less than 3 mph. Jogging is somewhere around 6 mph-- once you get around 8 mph people consider it running. And what about the top end? world record sprinting would be in the 23 mph range, with short bursts higher than that.

That works out pretty nicely; if we aren't too worried about realism we can say there are four movement rates that double in speed at each step:
  • walk 3 mph
  • jog 6 mph
  • run 12 mph
  • sprint 24 mph
Yes, your turnip-fed cleric is not going to be hitting 24 mph, but the doubling will make this very easy to remember so we can either wave our hands here a bit, or drop the walking speed to 2 mph and double from there. Which wouldn't be too far off; I think the actual average walking speed for Americans of all ages (don't forget your doddering wizards) is closer to 2.7 mph and the fastest rates are all recorded under pretty optimal conditions (smooth tracks, clear weather, no one chasing you with a long sword).

Okay, so lets see how the latter approach might work:
  • walk 2 mph
  • jog 4 mph
  • run 8 mph
  • sprint 16 mph
But why do we want rates at all? Seems like two reasons 1) to know whether you can outrun the bugaboo chasing you, meaning how long can you sustain the sprint, and 2) how far can you move in a typical combat round.

Let's look at 1. How long can these rates be sustained?

Sprinters can sustain speeds near 20 mph for 40 -50 seconds. So, if you consider a combat round 30 seconds, a character should be able to sprint for one round. That's easy to remember and elegant. Unfortunately, I tend to think of my combat rounds as 10 seconds-- 30 seems incredibly long for a brutal, non-ceremonial fight. Hmm, do I say players can sprint 5 rounds? I'll have to think about that.

How about the other speeds? We're calculating very roughly here, but I think the next tier of speed would be the 5000 and 10, 000 meter races. There you have people sustaining a pace of 16 mph and 14 mph for 12 and 26 minutes respectively. I'm going to go with that 12 minute mark and say it is closer to a turn. So, our characters can run for 10 minutes.

After that it gets less critical, people have sustained speeds of 6 mph on a treadmill for 24 hours. And it's probably less likely that such careful measurement will be required outside of combat. Average US marathoners maintain ~6 mph for 4.5 hours. We could say a jogging pace could be sustained for somewhere between 2-5 hours. I don't have a clear preference pulling me on this.

The walk pace can be kept up as long as you go without sleep. I'm no athlete and I've done 27 miles in a day that included going up and down Mount Whitney. So, yeah, characters should probably be able to do 30 miles a day without pushing too much , which equals 3 mph for 10 hours.

That's at least some rules of thumb. How about answer 2. from above. How far can you move in a combat round? Going with our second speeds above and assuming a tabletop inch equals 10 game feet, and also assuming my 10 second round (man this is feeling like the SAT or something) characters can:
  • walk 3 in
  • jog 6 in
  • run 12 in
  • sprint 24 in
Okay, I think that's enough for a part one. Let me know if I'm making any stupid mistakes or assumptions.

Interrupted Play

The session we played in the Lava Beds was interrupted several times. We started by rolling up characters and looking at the map of the locale. Then we explored a few caves. Then we played a few hours. We decided to break for lunch, which entailed making our way back out of the caves and driving a bit, eating, then driving back. Then we played some more.

What I noticed was that these breaks seemed to be fruitful. While walking the players were talking about what they thought of npcs and what plan of action they might take. Basically decision making and meta-game talk that always happens, but here it was happening away from the table, explicitly out of game. And what that meant was that when we got back to the game players went right into roleplaying; they knew what they wanted to try to accomplish, they were refreshed and relaxed from the break.

After noticing that I wondered if I might be able to build breaks into a session purposefully. This could be difficult because it seems my players generally have a total playing time limit 0f ~4 hours that we can work with. But it might still be possible to have an intermission of sorts.

What worked well in the caves was that we actually had some place physically to go. I'm not sure if it's enough to say "Okay we'll break now" and then just eat at the same table your playing at. I think it would be better to at the least get up and take a walk around the block or maybe go out in the backyard/on the balcony. It might even be good for players to get some time to chat game stuff away from the DM, but not necessarily.

So, for those of you with long running campaigns and more experience in these matters, do you ever break play? Would it be possible to incorporate a break?

Quartz Bath

All you need to own this tub carved from a solid piece of quartz is £530,000 or a crew of gnomes with diamond tipped picks willing to work 6 months.

via Neatorama

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Apocalyptic D&D

I understand now that what people were meaning when they said D&D was apocalyptic, was just that it requires empires past. So, apocalyptic in the sense that some old cultures had to bite it for us to find their magic items. Which, again, I think is mostly true.

But as a child of the eighties, apocalypse makes me think not of looking at Indian petroglyphs, or finding arrowheads (which I've done), but of Mad Max eating dog food because all of civilization has collapsed (which thankfully I haven't had to do yet).

Apocalypse makes me think of Humungus calling out for me to "just walk away . . ." which I know is a death sentence because the only reason he wants in is because there is no better place to walk too.

I thought it might be interesting to see what D&D pushed along these lines might be like.

I think two causes are most likely for the end of civilization in our campaign world: 1) the Fey Realm returns and 2) the Black Death. In the first the king's castle disappears one evening to be replaced with a dark wood, in the second the king's castle is laid barren by plague until some medieval Humungous takes it up as headquarters.

No gnomes, halflings or half-elves. They are gone, dead. No elf player characters, they are not sympathetic with human survival anymore. The Dwarves have vanished deep into the rock.

Water is hard to come by, to drink it brings either sickness or magical bewitchment. Food can be hunted but the hunter can quickly become the hunted.

Humans live in small roving bands and are constantly worried about infiltration by doppelgangers, and vampires. The woods are full of woses and driads.

Gold is useless. Magic items are unstable and dangerous. The most valuable thing is people you can trust.

The biggest challenge is to secure a place of safety with food and water. Perhaps there are magic bare lands on the boundaries of the world, perhaps magic doesn't work at high altitudes. Maybe the disease comes in the water and a new continent is the goal.

Ruins would only be interesting in the ways they might keep you safe until daybreak. Magic is frowned upon and gods require hierarchies-- only shamans and wild mages exist anymore.

What do you think? It certainly doesn't sound like it would feel like D&D in play. Might be fun to try a mini-campaign sometime.

Potion Traits

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the fabulous potion shop. Step right up, roll all your dice, and find out what the marvelous concoction you're about to partake of is like.

I had a heck of a time fitting enough colors, features, and flavors to satisfy me into this chart. Because of this I eventually decided to add a d30 to the mix. I hope this doesn't reduce the number of people that will find this useful.

If you don't have a d30 you could delete the current d10 (side effects), move colors down into its spot, and then decide whether you want to cut features down to d12 or flavors down to d20.

Another difference with this chart is that the font is smaller to accommodate the 30 flavor entries. It may be fine to use at it's current size, but if you want to shrink it down to digest size or something similar it becomes an issue.

Because of that and the new problem that you might not want players generating flavor and side effects (how would they know if they're just looking and swirling the liquid in its bottle?) I pulled those two categories onto a separate page and made everything a little easier to read. If you prefer this format you can have your players roll up potions using chart A with no worries, and then when they taste/drink the potion roll the results on chart B.


I've blogged a lot about giving players information with which they they can make decisions. And traditionally potions were the same way, you sip the potion of levitation and you suddenly feel lighter. Otherwise, you would have to identify every potion to make them useful. So how do we use a random potion generator in game?

I can think of five ways:
  • Don't. Give your potions hints that are logically related to their function. Aww, but I just made this cool chart!
  • Roll away and make every potion as random as Zagyg's heart. Potions might be less useful in your campaign.
  • Roll for every potion type as DM. Do this ahead of play and then be consistent. That way players know the fishy-smelling, black syrup is actually a greater potion of healing.
  • Roll randomly on the first encounter of any potion type. I like the idea of players rolling these (if there aren't too many in a batch), they're fun. So, the first time any potion type is encountered let them roll and after that be consistent in the qualities - "Well, there's one fishy-smelling, black syrup and 2 potions you need to roll for."
  • You could roll ahead of time and trump one of the qualities with one more logically related to its function.
Enough blathering, shall we try it?

2, 2, 8, 7, 10, 16, 26

Translucent, thin, full to the brim, no side effects, silver, sparkling, pepper.

Okay, it's thin, which is the consistency of water and the most common result. It's full to the brim, which doubles the potion, and has no side effects. Both of these qualities impinge on the potion in play the way a color doesn't, you could always ignore them. Sparkling in the features category is literal, it twinkles or sparkles in light. So, basically we have a watery, silver potion that sparkles and tastes of pepper.

4, 1, 8, 7, 11, 16, 1

Opaque, evaporative, full to the brim, no side effects, gold, sparkling, putrid

By evaporative I was thinking a volatile fluid like alcohol that, well, evaporates off of your tongue. Putrid may take some interpretation it's basically foul, but you might roll again on the flavor chart if you want to know if the foulness is specifically staleness, rottenness, cloying, or whatever.

1, 2, 7, 5, 5, 17, 15

Transparent, thin, full, belching/flatulence, green, iridescent, anise.

Pretty straight forward, a thin greenish potion that tastes of black licorice and gives you gas.

There you have it. Of course all the categories can be edited to your taste. Let me know if you have any suggestions. I hope you and your players get some enjoyment out of this.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Palate Cleanser

Here's a nice illustration from what looks to be an interesting book, The Book of Saints and Friendly Beasts. I like it's cover too, might edit it later. But now I've got to head up into the mountains for a bit. Hope you have a nice weekend. Stay tuned for more cool stuff.

I'm That Player

I mentioned a few times that I'm a player in a 4e game. It's the only roleplaying I've been getting to do as a player recently. During this campaign I've been complaining all along about the effectiveness of my character and the oddness of the rules. Finally last night my character died, the first to die in our campaign. When talk began about what character I'd make next, I said I didn't want to make another character, that I'd probably just drop out of the campaign. One friend said I was a poor loser, bad at dying.

Sounds horrible, I know. Let me give you some context.

First it is incredibly hard to die in 4e, I think that the only way it was possible was that we were pretty strongly outnumbered/outmatched and I was unlucky in my rolls.

Some of getting into this situation were probably mistakes on our part, but I had invisibly scouted the two possible paths in a cave we were exploring. One had monsters, the other a weird girl having a tea party. Obviously, being down in a cave, we new she wasn't normal, but then she wasn't openly hostile. In trying to ask her about a magic door we were searching for we apparently pushed her too far and were suddenly surrounded by waves of spiders.

There were only 3 of us playing so we probably should have hesitated to get into danger. But in our defense we did hire men-at-arms. And bless my DM's heart, he actually had us roll on my hireling trait table. It wasn't quite the same though-- spiders got initiative and all 7 hirelings were dead before they got to attack, haha.

I actually try to play very cautiously/defensively; I enter combats invisible if I can and because I lose that when I attack, I deployed a magical candle that grants invisibility to anything in a small radius. So I try to snipe things from within my protective blind. Because of this I was actually the last to go down. Both my party members went down. the first time I revived one, but he was quickly dropped again to be revived by the other player who was then dropped himself. The problem was there were spiders everywhere and it was hard to move around without getting opportunity attacked (I thought that was a feature people hated in 3.5? hmm).

So in saving my buddies I lost my hidey hole and was laid low pretty quickly. My teammates actually both managed to flee and live to fight another day.

So could we have made better decisions? Maybe, I'm not sure what they would have been though. Could we have prepared better strategically? Maybe, but again, other than waiting for a session when more players could be present to enter the caves I don't know what we could have done.

So why not roll up a character an jump right back in? The thought just makes me tired. I can't figure out this rule system. I don't know what the designers expect me to do. You might say, don't worry about that just roleplay, but that's how you end up as spider-snack.

See, I like magic and tend toward playing characters of the mage variety, but in 4e the wizard seems completely useless. It's hard to explain if you aren't familiar with the rules, but characters have different "powers" that they can use more or less frequently depending on, well, how powerful they are. Your standard peeshooter attack you can use "at-will." Other attacks you can use once a battle and finally the most powerful attacks you can use only once a day.

So, my character is, was a 7th level wizard and his daily powers, presumably the most deadly, are:
  • Sleep
  • Fireball
  • Stinking cloud
  • Bigby's Icy grasp
  • Summon Fire Warrior
Looks pretty impressive, right? The problem is you have to roll to hit for everything. Have you ever missed with a stinking cloud? I have. I cast fireball in the spider fight, an area of effect spell 3' x 3', and missed. The spiders ended up taking half damage which was something like 9 hit points and these things had well over 50. Woohoo, glad I can only cast that thing once a day.

How about sleep? Well you have to roll to hit and if you miss, the targets are slowed, which is pretty much useless because they're already standing in your face wailing on you, they don't need to move. If you are lucky enough to hit the creature with your magical sleep dust they are slowed and if they fail a save they fall asleep. They get a save every combat round after that to wake up.

Ok, is it me or is that the nerf of all nerfing? Once a day>if you hit>if target fails save>they sleep.

I really hate to be that guy at the table, the one that brings things down and makes it less fun for the DM. I hope my jokes and banter made up for any complaints I made, but it's just really frustrating to not be able to figure a game out. I think it might be doubly frustrating because the game looks like one I've played but if I play it like that game I don't do well.

The friend that said I was just a sore loser said maybe I just didn't build my wizard right, I'd made the wrong choices in character creation. That kind of irked me and I challenged him to make a 7th level wizard any way he wanted and I'd fight him with an elf two levels lower and win.

I said that because most of the party is elf or elf-related. They get to do things like teleport during combat and their daily powers tend to be about doing more damage rather than just putting effects on foes. I have a sinking suspicion that the wizard is meant to be "Crowd Control." Somehow constraining monsters or funneling them like in a MMO. But none of the effects my spells create-- slow, daze-- can actually prevent a creature from attacking. And even if I could somehow manipulate where monsters moved or attacked how would that change a battle, the elves are all attacking with all their might anyway?

So, again, I can't figure that system out and because of that it is frustratingly unfun.

And because of that I don't want to play it. I enjoy the socializing. We did some creative roleplaying, but once we entered a battle I new it would be at least an hour of frustration. And battles were inevitable.

Anyway, that's my rant. I'd be fascinated to hear from anyone who's successfully played a 4e wizard, or from a DM familiar with both 4e and older versions of D&D that could weigh in on the differences in approach required to be successful.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Revised Player Handouts

My brain is all afroth with ideas to post about and I'm trying to limit it to two posts a day, but I've been working on some revisions on my houseruled player handouts and wanted to post them in order to share.

I use Open Office and save to pdf, but I'm happy to post .docs, or .odfs if anyone is interested, the idea is to share something useful.

First, I mentioned going back over my fastpack-- the starting equipment I just give players in order to get play rolling. Because it added up to a lot of weight I trimmed amounts back and actually listed the weights. It should be much less likely for a normal strength human to start play partially encumbered after utilizing this list.

Get the pdf here. And, you'll need the weapon list for players to choose from . I've got all the blunts arranged together for easy cleric weapon choice and weapons listed in order of damage. Its pdf is here.

The other thing I finally accepted is that my hireling traits spur was difficult for people new to using it to read. I was seduced by symmetry. I loved having the progression from the smallest die to the largest in a nice triangle.

But you have to read the d4 with the d20 which are opposite ends of the chart, and without knowing that the chart can quickly confuse. So I've revised it. I moved dice that work together beside each other, I labeled what the rolls were for, and touched up a few other things.

I hope that will be clearer even if it looks a little more cluttered. Get it here.

I think the "remarkable" entry for physical features should probably be something else-- its too similar to "odd" and most of the other adjectives are remarkable anyway.

If you have any ideas for replacing that or how to make any of these handouts more legible or useful please feel free to share. Thanks.

Have a Couple Cool Castles

Thursday, June 17, 2010

The Fewest Rules

How little do you need to game? I don't mean diceless games or improv theater or anything. What I mean is if you're going to game somewhere inconvenient, say a cave ;), what can you get by with if playing your favorite rpg?

How many pages do you need to run a game?

I remember having a camping expedition that required hiking into the Sierras and back in to a small lake. I was DMing 1e and I made myself some traveling rules.

Though I doubt you could tell it from my room, or my life, I seem to have some kind of efficiency fetish; I like things doing more with less.

That's one of the reasons I loved the randomizing chart in the back of the Lone Wolf gamebooks. It was a grid filled randomly with numbers from 1-10 and the idea was that you would close your eyes and pick one out with a pencil. No dice needed! Perfect for mountain D&D. So I preceded to make similar charts for all the die types. A fact which much amused ze Bulette and Marcus on our recent trip. ( Just wait, one day you'll lose a die down a gully and you'll see! haha).

You can see me d4 diceless randomizer in the pic below. I don't think we ever really used them; seem to recall the players bringing their own dice.

Anyway, on my recent trip I was surprised at how little I really needed to play my slightly tweaked version of Swords & Wizardry. And I want to push in that direction, streamlining and eliminating what I don't need.

Before you answer the question of how many pages you'd need let's make two qualifications 1) you haven't memorized anything through sheer dog-headed persistence. I mean I'm sure there are grognards out there that have all of 1e's charts memorized. But let's limit it to what a newbie DM on their first or second session might remember. And 2) lets assume that play will involve consistent levels. In other words if it isn't a starting party, at least everyone will all be near the same level.

Okay, it took me forever to remember the AC of leather armor, so I'm going to want a list of armor classes. I also don't remember all the weapon stats including ranges and rates of fire, so I want that. And . . . not much else.

See, I know that 1-2 level characters have the same chance to hit, and they have the same chance to save. (If you really have something odd, discrepancies can be written on the character sheets.)


How about monsters though? Oh, this is what surprised me with how easy it was. A monster gets a to hit bonus equal to its HD. So a 2 HD creature adds +2 when it rolls to hit. Its challenge level, barring special powers like paralyze, is its HD. How many experience points are they worth? A 1HD creature has 15xp and it doubles every HD after that. So if you remember 15 and can multiply by two, you're good to go. How much treasure should a monster have? The core rule book recommends 2-3x xp which you just figured out. Are you seeing a pattern here? If you know a monsters HD you know all you need to know.

Well, except maybe attack damage, movement rates and saving throws. If you're familiar with S&W you may notice I tweaked the saves in the chart below to follow a linear progression. I know this is probably breaking some powerful hoodoo that protects high level monsters from mighty adventurers, but right now it doesn't seem important enough to make me need to lug around a rule book just to jump a 3HD creature's save by 2 instead of 1.

Super elegant, but that leaves us with attack damage and movement rates. So I might want a creature reference sheet with some exemplary monsters. If I need a monster that I haven't prepared in advance and not on the sheet, I'm confident I can extrapolate. Something like this:


What else? How about spells? You'll most likely only need to know the spells your players can use. In a beginning campaign first level spells will go a long way. Most of them are self explanatory. You might just need a list of names with notes for those that need it- maybe a digest-sized page.

You might even tweak the spells to make them easier to remember. The one spell that always had me digging out the rule book is sleep. Here is the chart I would consult:

And here is my house rule tweak:

Does that mess things up? I doubt it. It only shifts the curve for creatures of 1 HD or less, and not by much. And the benefit is that I'll never need to look it up again.


What else? I don't need them but I'd probably want all my spurs to help improv. Hireling Traits, Spell Like Effects, Outdoor Encounters, etc. That adds a few pages but provides me with a ton of support and possibilities.


One page dungeon with encounter tables and maybe some rumors.

  1. Starting Equipment
  2. Armor Class/Weapons Stats
  3. Cleric Spells/Magic-user Spells
  4. Creature Reference Sheet/Custom Monsters
  5. Hireling Traits/Spell-like Effect
  6. Outdoor Encounter/Minor Malevolent Effect
  7. Dungeon map/encounter tables/rumors
I'm actually trying to work this package up, but I'm estimating I'll need 5-8 U.S. letter size pages or less. And I don't mean micro font, that's with 12 point font.

You might be able to make a mid-level pack/high-level pack with spells and monsters for those level ranges and take whichever one you needed for a particular party.

I have images of laminated plastic pages and DMing while floating in the Salton Sea, or from under a waterfall! Buwhahahah.

What do you think? I'm guessing some of you must have crafted your own traveling D&D kits.

Against Apocalypse

The meme currently running through the blogoshpere is that all D&D is apocaplyptic; we're all playing Gamma World with fantasy dressing, essentially. While there is some truth to that, and it is can be very useful for play, as usual it works best if you focus on roleplaying's swords and sorcery roots and squint away everything else.

So, just to be a contra voice and say D&D doesn't have to be apocalyptic, I give you a one word rebuttal:


If there is anywhere on earth today that you might come close to simulating D&D in real life it's a place like the Valley of the Kings in Egypt: find an un-looted tomb, break in, and gather the glittering treasures. And this is because the pyramids, the Valley of the Kings, and the rest of the sites in Egypt are the remnants of an invoked devastation . . . umm, nope.

D&D doesn't have to be about Atlantis, or Lemuria, or the Suel Empire. D&D is as much about history as it is about fantasy and has to be apocalyptic only in the sense that time is apocalyptic, that all history, with its genocides, wars, and plagues is apocalyptic. The long forgotten empires of Medieval Europe, those that provided it its scholarly language, its texts, its science, and myth, were not sunk into the sea, but declined over centuries.

Maybe this is more apparent to me living on the West Coast of America, where 100 year old buildings are ancient wonders, but the world is littered with the remnants of past peoples and they weren't all nuked.

So, history . . . but empires fallen in apocalypse is actually useful in a game setting because it can provide both powerful artifacts and the reasons they can't be created anymore making them rare and desirable. But let me go back to another source of D&D's inspiration and give you an alternative:

Fairy tales.

I would say that Jack the Giant Killer is as much an inspiration for D&D as Elric or Conan ever were. And where did Jack get those beans? Not Lemurian super science. How about the mill that grinds out what you wish, the seven league boots, the tinder box that summons magical dogs?

Where did they come from? To know would be to lose some of the wonder. So, in the end why make this post at all? Because, while it can work and work well, if you think of all D&D as apocalyptic, it seems you are pushed as DM to explain the apocalypse and know the origin of each relic. But I don't think this is necessary; below lies the mythic underworld and the items there can give you your heart's desire if you are cautious and not greedy. That's enough.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

More Encumbrance

First, here's an old character sheet I ran across while digging through old stuff.

That's my crude attempt at a backpack, bag, and figure from ~15 years ago. This was my buddies character. And you can see it doesn't really work, everything is sort of haphazardly jumbled in the backpack. But still an attempt at keeping track of gear encumbrance and location.

Also, I was tallying up the weight of the fastpack I give characters at start of play and ... arrgh, they would all be partially encumbered just by carrying the starting gear!

I don't want to get too hung up on the detail, but I don't want to just completely ignore what they're carrying either. I've been thinking/working on a simple record sheet. Thanks to Roger the GS of Roles, Rules,and Rolls, I looked to the Outdoor Survival counters as models to give players a easy graphic representation of how weight affects movement.

Here are the originals:

Here's what I did with them:

And here are a couple mock ups using the new silhouettes:

An encumbrance movement key.

And encumbrance checkboxes for average human strength (15 pounds per box).

What do you think?

Wizard as Gunslinger

Just a brief note on an idea for an alternate endgame for wizards: hired by a village or town for protection. Talking with my buddy on the drive to the lava beds I thought: in a world that really had mages wouldn't settlements try to secure one for their own protection à la the Magnificent Seven?

Unless the government provides you with some kind of sanctioned magical protection your burgeoning trade town would be ripe for any magic user of about 5th level to walk in and do as they please.

This would probably explore some of the lesser used types of adventure I blogged about here. Why wait for 10th level for a wizard to carve out a place for themselves in the wilderness and build a tower? I understand the tower of their own could be seen as the ultimate prize, but you could still manage that. Have a town offer to build a tower within the town for the wizard, at the wizard's specifications. This would give a party a sort of homebase, a place to store their trophies (also a place they are vulnerable, if they store stuff and leave it could be stolen). But it never is really the wizard's; the aldermen are constantly asking for help, making suggestions and complaints.

A wizard tower around 5th level might be the coolest thing ever and within a level or two still have the wizard desperate to get out of town and build their own tower on some remote crag. "Curse these interruptions and interferences!"

Of course after putting gunslinger in the title of the post I'm thinking of your poor mage with 4 hit points being challenged to a duel each time you enter a populated area. As they gain renown they become the target of fame seekers. Mo' magic, mo' problems.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Gaming with Kids

I don't remember being nine. I like to think of myself as young of mind, but it's not the same.

I got the opportunity to DM a session with ze Bulette's nephew and he said he was interested in my thoughts on the experience. Here are some loose thoughts:

First, adult players around my table drinking whiskey, talking, and being goofy have at times been more of a challenge to DM than Josiah. It wasn't a bad experience at all. But there do seem to be some differences with a younger player.

He really seemed to enjoy the broad strokes of the hireling personalities. I try to steer away from cliches, but yeah, hirelings tend to head that direction: the Hick, the Grouch, the Shrew, etc. He seemed to get these and be amused by them.

Kids seem to have a lot of energy and less attention and I'm sure the two are related even if not perfectly. Roleplaying out getting a hireling because Bulette knows from experience that things are going to get brutal takes a long time in a young mind. Not only does a younger player not have that experience, they may not realize all this blah, blah, blah, is even about getting another sword arm. And they have this energy and want to do something.

So the younger player can zone out (my character's asleep) or try to interject something impulsive to get things lively again (just jump the fence an catch the chicken, dammit).

Although, I think both of those actions are probably also related to being unsure of what is expected of you, what "good" roleplaying would be, what an adult would do in a certain game situation.

And something else that is most interesting of all, I think the younger player might be interacting with the fantasy world in a way that is closer to the root of why we do it. "Wouldn't it be funny if the elf just hopped the fence and grabbed a chicken? What would happen if I just rapped this guy on the head?" With experience we know that these things can lead to complications in game and actually get in the way of what we want to do. As adults we sacrifice spontaneity for a little more control of desired outcomes. But I think the playfulness still survives in the more "gonzo" games and even in the mosts serious games as jokes and table banter; I find myself saying "No, no, no, I was joking" as a player a lot.

So what does this mean? I would say it means it would be a good idea to try to get kids involved, not just in their own "kiddy" games but with us at our tables, at least every now and then. It would remind us of that experimenting spirit and keep us from getting too bogged down in dickering over the prices of barrels or something. It would remind us of certain rule complications or world assumptions we've taken for granted.

But it is interesting in another way too. Even today I experience a stigma around gaming for it being childish. But here was a social event where a boy could hang with some men and interact. He was able to see how men talk, make decisions, even disagree. It seems pretty important as a society to have social spaces we can interact that way.

That might seem ridiculously obvious, especially if you have kids, but in my life kids were often sent off to the little kids table, to the little kids church service, away from adult interaction.

But enough from me, I know some of you must game with your kids. Instead of me speculating off of one experience, what is different about DMing younger players?

What challenges would you foresee in including a younger gamer into an adult gaming group?

What would an adventure explicitly for younger players encompass?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Encumbrance Checkboxes

One of the things that got me jazzed enough to start a blog was Delta's idea of using stones for encumbrance. I've mentioned it before, but it seemed like an elegant way to simplify and add detail to the game (the later because you could use encumbrance at all, with its complexity few people seem to).

But even tracking weight in 15 pound increments doesn't seem to make it easy enough to engage encumbrance at my table. I know it's easy enough for me to stop and explain, even tally up the player's gear for them, but I don't want to bog things down, and there's enough going on for new players to digest anyway. So encumbrance has pretty much been handwaved in my sessions so far.

But it seems encumbrance is essential for a resource management game and I want the drama of decisions players will have to make when they have to leave some treasure behind. So how to do it. Here's an idea: checkboxes.

The idea is, if you have something visual and simple enough, you might be able to tell players to track their own encumbrance. Basically check a box for every stone of gear your carrying (my equipment list already has weights in stone so they don't need to convert.) Also, players will clearly see when they click over into a slower movement rate.

To keep things simple you could abstract this enough so that you have one set of checkboxes for all characters, but that really short changes the exceptionally strong and sort of defeats the purpose of having a strength stat. I decided to split the difference and try five, average strength and two categories above and below.

Here's a pdf of what I mocked up. I wanted to put little silouhuettes of a figure stooping as it carried more and more weight, which I think would clearly communicate what the boxes meant- carry more, move slower-- but alas, artwork has been thwarting me today (I was looking for several other things with no luck).

If I use this it means I'll have to have several sheets of these ready and cut the appropriate one out for a player when a new character is made. Messes up the simplicity of just using blank index cards but maybe the price is worth it.

I 'll have to try it out and see if its still too cumbersome ;) for play.

Have a Casual Knight



From here.

CaveCon 2010 - Post Session

Thanks to ze Bulette for the invite to the Lava Beds National Monument to game in the lava tubes there. He's a nice guy, funny, and great player. He gave me one of his famous Labyrinth Lord Purple Boxes, a copy of Matt Finch's urban encounters, and a Canadian Club dice bag. He has a recap of the caving action and pics up here. It was also great to meet his nephew, at nine, my youngest player ever. Here's what went down:

The party consisted of Ehud of the sands, a mage, and his two female porters; Bodabox the Elf, and his two porters including Nosarie with the filthy habit of picking her nose while commenting on how her employer spent his money; and Scantilous, divine servant of a god of celebration and revelry (or debauchery, depending on your point of view) along with his fabulous father/daughter team of porters- he blind an she weak and sickly, both roped together.

Just off the road into a village the party encountered an old, weathered wagon. It was so weathered it looked as if it was made of drift wood. It was hitched to an ox but sat motionless with two men up front. One looked older and moaned in pain. The party was very leer of ambush and slowly approached gathering little bits of information.

It appeared the moaning man was old and wounded- signs of infection from a bite spreading through his face. The other man was younger, sat motionless and didn't answer to questions. Ehud moved to inspect under a tarp in the back of a wagon finding a wooden statue of a foreign-dressed man pointing west. Scantlious approached the wounded man who grabbed his arm and asked him to care for his son Notrix, while pressing a leather satchel into his hands. The old man expired soon after.

Scantilous' persistant questioning finally elicited a response from the younger man but it was an odd response and the party was surprised; apparently he was in serious shock or godtouched in some way. The leather satchel contained twenty small glass vials of various kinds of white powders and a small bag of worn, glass beads of different colors. Notrix asked for the beads and in the ensuing back and forth Scantilous determined they might have some magical effect when combined with the powders (?). He gave the beads to Ehud for safe keeping.

After moving the corpse of the old man to the back of the wagon Scantilous tested a hypothesis by leading the ox in a circle. Sure enough, the statue in the back remained pointing in the same direction-- it turned on wooden cogs as the wagon turned. At this time Bodabox noticed a worn inscription on the back of the wagon, the only thing still legible: " . . . the last watch tower . . . Josiah 12:5"

The party went into town and asked a tavern keeper about any watch towers. He mentioned a series of watch towers left by an ancient empire and the rumor that one out in the broken lands held a magic bush that's fruit granted immortality when eaten.

Because the parties hirelings were all non-combatants and the Broken Lands to the west were said to be dangerous, Scantilous was interested in finding another sword arm. The provisional plan was to have the elf use his charm person spell on the village smith, but on seeing his grizzled beard and massive frame, Scantilous was worried what he might do if the charm failed. After conversing with the amicable smith the party learned of a local youth who might be willing to travel with them.

Robert son of Robert was found asleep behind a cottage, his crooked, bowl cut hair quite unforgettable. The party woke him and asked if he would be willing to join them. He seemed reluctant at first until Bodabox blurted an offer of 20 gp for his service. He readily agreed, upon which Bodabox earned back some of the money by selling the weaponless youth a battle axe for 10 gold.

After a few more inquiries the party learned there were two dirt roads heading west, one swinging north headed into red wolf territory and one swinging south passed acrosss a great slat flat. They decided a salt flat sounded safer than wolves and spent a few gold provisioning the wagon with 2 barrels of water.

With that, the party was off. The plan was to follow the south road until the wagon's statue pointed north upon which they would leave the road looking for the tower. The road soon turned to glaring white flats for as far as they could see. The sun beating down on them eventually drove them under the wagon's leathern tarp for cover. Robert's son drove for a time until he began complaining of the heat upon which Bodabox took over the reins.

A little later, Bodabox pulled the wagon to a stop on seeing a strange transparent frog. It was a tiny frog, its organs clearly visible through its skin. A debate ensued between Ehud and Scantilous about the frog. Ehud, curious as a mage was intent to collect it as a specimen, Scantilous was leery of any creature surviving in such a harsh environment.

Eventually another frog appeared and leaped at the ox' leg letting out a strange hissing cry. At the cry the slat flats began rippling with movements as hundreds of similar clear frogs began closing on the wagon in concentric circles.
The part immediately whipped the ox into a run and started splashing handfuls of water off of the wagon, which drew the frogs away. They had to slow their speed as the ox began to lather and foam, but at about this point the statue in the back of the wagon was pointing dead north.

The drove the wagon until the broken red rocks made it impossible to go any further. After examining the wagon to determine if they might dismantle it, taking the statue as a way-finder into the broken wastes, they realized it required the turning wheels to work. They would have to leave the wagon and head into the wastes unguided.

Scantilous decided to leave his blind hireling tied to the wagon to care for it and and the ox. He gave him explicit instructions on how to ration out the water over the next three days.

With that the party formed a single file and headed into the broken lands navigating by a huge snowy peak far to the north east. The only thing moving it the hot, hellish land was a circling bird- a vulture?- which must be huge to be so big at such a distance.

And at that we realized the time, that we might be locked into the cave area, and had to gather up all our gear and scramble back out of the cave and run for the car.

It doesn't seem like much happened, but there was a lot of role playing, some of it quite funny. The party still has to figure out what to make of odd Notrix and the satchel of white vials.

Even though there was no combat and the party didn't make it to a tower or any lava tube caves, it felt pretty dramatic to me, almost like a movie, the tension building. I as a DM am not even sure what might happen, but I have the feeling that any combat could sweep in like a storm, killing many of the weak porters and changing the balance of things in an eye blink.

Thanks again to ze Bulette, his nephew, and my buddy Marcus. Especially to Marcus who had to listen to my caffienated rambling about D&D for about 22 hours of hot driving, haha. But I've got some interesting ideas to post about out of those conversations.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Sword Family Tree

Thought you all might find this picture interesting. It's from this book, which has similar charts for helmets, gauntlets, etc.

I'm off to play Swords & Wizardy in caves! I'm excited to get to DM again. I found the pic above while hunting for a prop image. I better get back to working on my adventure. If you don't hear back from me in a couple of days send a search party. Have a nice weekend.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Decision Signposts

Okay, if the idea is that players decide what level of risk to engage they need to have some idea of what the risk is. This is all pretty obvious but I want to write it down. Here are things that I as DM should make sure to think about in order to give players clues as to what lies ahead:

The Six Senses
  • The cries of beasts, war music or chanting of sentient creatures, the sound of rough water, of creaking wood about to give way, popping of fire, fizzing, moaning.
  • Tracks in sand/mud, blood spatter, monster scat, partially eaten corpses/prey, broken weapons, trail markings, hieroglyphs, messages scratched in stone, plants all bent one way, trails of stones.
  • Monster musk, water vapor, smoke, rotting flesh, mildew, burning hair, cooking meat, sweat, chemical smells.
  • Temperature gradually rising or falling, stones worn by constant passage, slick surfaces, sharp surfaces, crumbling ledges, cracking wooden supports, pressure waves.
  • Eeriness or oldness, feeling that things "aren't right," a feeling of great evil or of peace, of good, of ancient silence.

Architecture made by sentient beings is often symmetrical; if there was a small room on the East, there might be a similar one to the West. Similarly, if a spear trap killed a party member in the first small room, we should be cautious approaching the second. Guard posts may be in mirrored locations. If one of many small, acrid chambers has hatchlings nesting in it, the others might too.


People in town said there were flocks of things so we'll keep watch upwards. Everyone talks of the danger coming by darkness so we'll explore the lair by noon-light.

Common Sense and Logic

There is a small building on the island in the underground lake, the cultists must have a way to cross the lake whether it be magical or mundane. We saw dragon hatchlings, the mother is probably near. The salamanders like heat and this hallway is getting hotter so prepare for salamanders.

Am I missing any others?

Monday, June 7, 2010

Domino Dungeons

A while back I posted a way to trace your dice to make a quick, random, but semi-realistic dungeon. That technique is more suitable for caves and caverns, though, because there's no rhyme or reason, just random placement. And dungeons made by sentient creatures, even if centuries decayed, presumably had some reasons behind why they were made.

So I wanted to make a way to quickly and easily generate dungeons that were man made, or at least made.

Two possible ways to approach this are Greywulf's Sudoku Dungeons and Zak's way to use tarot cards to make a more grid like dungeon. Here's my take using dominoes:
  1. pull 12 dominoes
  2. place one at a time
  3. connect low faces first
  4. first tile connected is straight, after that turn the tile based on whether the outer number is higher or lower than the connecting number: low=left, high=right
  5. place orphans to the sides
Face numbers mean:

o - chasm
1 - water
2 - corridor
3 - storage/commercial
4 - martial
5 - religious
6 - arcane

Pretty simple. There is some fuzziness in there as with most simple rules, but the idea, as always is to push you to come up with creative interpretations that you might not normally. Step number three in the directions tends to push rooms away from each other and towards the periphery but they will still be connected via various passageways. Also, because we are connecting numbers, complexes of like-purposed rooms tend to form.

Let me walk you through an example:I randomly pick 12 bones (I have a set of travel dominoes that makes them easier to use in a small space, and I shake them up in a bag).
The first of the twelve I flip over to reveal the 1-3. Place it in the center.

Next come a 0-4. Uh oh, what to do with that. We'll just put it off to the side for now hoping it will link up somehow later.

And 2-5, likewise, we'll put it on the other side.

With 0-1 we see rule #3 come into play; this tile could connect in two places but we'll go with the low, 0, side.

With the 5-6 our other side gets a little love.

The 1-2 and 3-4 are pretty straightforward so I'll just show this pic after both are placed.

With the 4-5 we see the first invocation of rule #4 (otherwise we'd have a bunch of cruciform random dungeons) and because the 5 face is higher than the connecting face we turn it to the right. You can move your side dominoes farther out to make for islands of rooms in a big megdungeon (presumably connected vertically or magically) or you can smoosh them together as I did here, which is nice because it moves away from strictly rule based connections.

I place doubles horizontal and tend to think of them as the largest and most impressive of their type.

This poses one of the fuzzy problems I mentioned above, where to put the 0-0? But I wouldn't think to hard about it, any of the 6 possible placements I can think of are going to result in an impressive chasm, so I just placed it to the left.

Likewise with the 3-3. I suppose I'm defaulting to try to link up our orphan tiles.

And our last bone is another double.

Okay, now what do we make of this? Well, water next to a chasm seems a natural for a waterfall. And water separating rooms seems a cool place to put boats or a ferry. Here's a humble map I made of our domino dungeon:
I said I thought of doubles as an impressive incarnation of their type, so I thought our double 2 might be a massive, grand stairway. One of the limitations with this system
is that it doesn't deal with variations in depth, so if our interpretations can add those all the better.

For storage/commercial (green) my thinking is that it can be anything from mines to mushroom farms to mundane storage rooms. Because the double 3 is connected to the grand stair, it probably isn't a mine-- unless the mine uncovered the stair?! It could also be an ancient chamber relegated to storage by new inhabitants.

I would probably say the entrance is the little bit of corridor (blue) and that players will need to cross an underground lake where they will have to decide to go left or right.

The double 4 could be a throne room. I put a pair of rope bridges across the great chasm et voilà we have a dungeon. It seems a lot here, but you can generate these things in about 2 minutes.

Hope this is useful. Let me know if you have any ideas to improve the process.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Djamasp's Diviner

This tiny golden chariot will move of it's own accord towards the largest concentration of anything placed in it. Because of its size this is most likely limited to something like a gem, a coin, or possibly a scroll. Otherwise, there is no limitation, it will seek out living or dead items and travel the shortest route to them it can maneuver. It moves at the speed of a walking human and is fragile enough that even a fall of a few feet will damage it irreparably.

Photo source.